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WIAC cancels football, other fall sports and now the question is: What next?

WIAC cancels football, other fall sports and now the question is: What next?
Quarterback Kobe Berghammer was named the WIAC Newcomer of the Year in 2019, but will have to wait until 2021 to continue what he started last season with the UW-Oshkosh Titans. (Courtesy: @UWOFootball/Facebook)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (BVM) — On July 27, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) released a statement that surprised many. 

“Conference seasons and championships in the sports of football, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country are to be canceled for the 2020-21 academic year,” the WIAC stated in a press release. “Institutions will retain the autonomy to establish practice opportunities within the limitations stipulated by the NCAA throughout the 2020-21 academic year.”

Women’s tennis and women’s golf were moved to the spring, but for the rest of the fall sports mentioned, there will be no 2020-21 season at all. 

“I knew about a month ago that this was very much in play; not a shocker,” University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh head football coach Pat Cerroni said.

For Cerroni, this was a longtime coming, and something he was dreading but could not confirm until Monday.

“I was kept out of the loop the entire time and that’s OK I’m not complaining,” Cerroni said. “What are you going to do about it? What is going to change?”

Cerroni was left in the dark as the WIAC discussed options for the upcoming fall seasons, but as time went on it became more obvious to him that it was going to take a miracle for the 2020 fall season to happen. 

“A month ago, I thought we might have a chance here because we are ready and then everyday it got worse for 30 days straight,” Cerroni said. “I believe that the University of Oshkosh was ready to go. I think our athletic training staff did a phenomenal job and they were ready to go. I think our AD was supportive and our chancellor was supportive. They trusted us that we could go. 

“I don’t think Oshkosh was on the negative end in this thing. We were in the positive because I was told that. I was told a month ago we are ready to go. We have everything in place now everything else has to fall into place and I don’t think everything else fell into place.”

One of those pieces that didn’t fall into place was the rest of the Division III conferences moving forward with their seasons. Since the beginning of summer, college programs from NJCAA all the way up to NCAA Division I have been canceling or postponing their seasons. It soon became a domino effect that eventually reached the WIAC.

“Who the heck are we going to play at this point? Everyone else is done,” Cerroni said. “Had the Ohio schools said they were playing I think we’d be playing. No doubt about it but they said no Friday so it was over.”

The Titans will not be able to avenge their heartbreaking overtime loss to Central Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They also won’t be able to defend their WIAC championship after being co-champions with the UW-Whitewater last season. Even with this heartbreak, after the summer Cerroni has had, he’s just relieved.

“I’m just glad a decision is made so that now I can go to work and move forward,” Cerroni said. “I’ve just been sitting around waiting, still doing stuff but I really couldn’t talk to the players because I had nothing to say. Now I can sit down and we have practices to schedule. Let’s focus on Aug. 2021 and get ready for that moment.”

Even while looking to the future, there are still many questions that need to be answered, in particular how the cancellation affects eligibility.

“That’s probably the No. 1 question right now that people are worried about,” Cerroni said. “I knew even a month ago that if they did cancel the season they’re going to have to put all that eligibility stuff on hold for the next five years basically. Eligibility is going to be a wash for at least five years.”

Communication has been important for Cerroni, and even though he was kept in the dark, most of what he has done this summer has been coordinating communication between his coaching staff and his players.

“We have to get the correct message out and make sure everyone understands you can still go to school, you can still practice and you’re not going to lose eligibility,” Cerroni said. “What we’ve done ever since basically April is the position coaches, I have three full-time coaches which were laid off in May so they couldn’t have any communication with the players and then I have a huge staff of about 25 other people. … They all stayed on and they met with our players every week. I had people meet with our recruits, our 56 freshmen, so what I did was just manage all of that.”

The information is out and all the players understand what this year will be like. They all have to look toward the future. Cerroni and his staff are waiting to get the NCAA guidelines so that they can begin to plan practices. Meanwhile, student-athletes are getting ready for school.

However, for all of them, the future is still uncertain.

“The story now is who’s going to open back up,” Cerroni said. “How many football teams are coming back because I think you’re going to be shocked.”

The Titans have already seen the effects of COVID-19.

“Our alums stepped up huge during this crisis and I want to thank them. It was awesome what they did for our coaches,” Cerroni said.

Moving forward, UW-Oshkosh will need more of that support to survive, but Cerroni is confident in what they have at the university.

“We’re going to recover from this, and we’ll recover a lot quicker than most,” Cerroni said. 

Until then, all anyone can do is wait and try as best they can to plan for an uncertain future.

“The bottom line is maybe this is what’s best,” Cerroni said. “Lets just take a year off and regroup.”